Europe seems to be perilously divided over what to do with Iraq. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is trying to work out new proposals to persuade France, Germany and Belgium to agree to defend Turkey against possible attacks by Iraq. The three European countries are, so far, firm about interpreting such military support as indirectly assenting to the “logic of war”, which they are still unwilling to do. They want to intensify and prolong the weapons-inspection approach in Iraq, pressing for more time before finally abandoning the way of peace. But this is not only a question of choosing between war and peace, but also a rather momentous gesture at the United States of America. “Old Europe” — as the US defence secretary put it, not without scorn — is refusing to fall in with the growing authority and unilateralism of the New World. This also implies that there is a “new” Europe, led by Britain, which has its own reasons for being part of what the US calls the “coalition of the willing”. What is deepening, therefore, is the division within Europe, and this will have a profound effect on the integrity and functioning of the European Union, the United Nations and NATO.
If the US remains adamant about its plans to wage war on Iraq, without UN sanction and in spite of Old Europe’s opposition, then this will not only leave an awkwardly divided EU, but also put the UN and NATO on the brink of an ignominious irrelevance. (NATO played no role in the Afghan war.) Set up in 1949 to counter Soviet expansion in Europe, NATO’s occupation was gone after the Cold War ended. September 11, and the US, gave it a new enemy, and a new reason for existing; the “war against terror” needed its foreign legion. Meanwhile, NATO had starting getting on with Russia and had incorporated large swathes of eastern Europe. But in this disagreement over defending Turkey, Russia seems to be on the side of Old Europe, and the eastern European NATO countries are still too insecure to take a stand for peace against the US. France has been a problem before, with Charles de Gaulle pulling out of NATO’s military structure in the mid-Sixties in protest against the dominance of the American commanders. The Suez crisis in 1956 — of which many are being reminded now — saw Washington and the UN condemning British and French military action. NATO is caught again in the fault-line between peace-keeping, as in the Balkans, and more aggressive means of disarming “rogue” nations. Europe, old and new, will certainly need to provide for its own defence and security, and must learn to do so in concert with the US perhaps, but not under its direction.